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Research

Our Research

Our Mission

The Centre’s mission is to improve the quality of life of people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities through research.

Research Streams

People with developmental disabilities face serious challenges in all areas of their lives, from education and work to health and daily living. We conduct research to build useful knowledge in all of these areas.

complete list of our publications and presentations is available. You can filter the list using tags, search for key words, and click on items to see whether a PDF copy is available.

Much of our work addresses the following topics.

Knowledge Translation

Families touched by developmental disabilities are often bewildered by the amount of information about treatments and services. Moreover, sorting facts from fiction can be a daunting task. Practitioners often have no access to scientific journals to guide their practices. Administrators and policymakers need evidence to make informed decisions on resource allocation.

How can we help to ease these burdens? At the Research Centre we feel a social and scientific responsibility not only to create new knowledge, but to bring research to life for everyone affected by a developmental disability. To this end we’re collaborating with St.Amant School to lead the development and implementation of a knowledge translation process for Manitoba and beyond. We also work to find and synthesize existing knowledge, as in our scoping review on the topic of assessing and treating pain in people with developmental disabilities.

Autism

We do not yet fully understand what causes autism, but research tells us that many affected children can benefit greatly from early intensive behavioural intervention (EIBI). EIBI is now a government-funded service in many jurisdictions across Canada, including Manitoba, where we’re conducting a longitudinal evaluation of ABA Program outcomes.

Our prevalence research will help service planners to know how many children need the service. We collaborate with geneticists, trying to find the cause of autism so that appropriate services will reach those children and families as quickly as possible, and to pave the way for developing more effective treatments. We’ve studied ways to teach perspective-taking to children with autism, who are often challenged by this skill.

We’re using a state-of-the-art neuroimaging technique called functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to study how the brain changes during learning that results from Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) for Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This approach may be highly beneficial in identifying early courses of the intervention and the learning-dependent brain processes underlying the effects of treatment.

Community Health

People with developmental disabilities experience more health related problems than the general population, and many of these conditions can be treated if they’re identified early. Yet we don’t really know how health care services are being used by persons with developmental disabilities living in the community.

Our pilot study funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research showed that we are able to reliably distinguish persons with and without developmental disabilities based on Manitoba administrative databases. Using the validated definition, we are now in the process of examining a number of health indicators to describe and compare health status and health care utilization patterns of people with and without DD in Manitoba. One such project focuses on children with DD – little is currently known about the health status of this vulnerable group. We also study health-related issues associated with the aging of this population.

We’re also studying the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in Manitoba and across Canada.

Education of Health Care Professionals

The health care system is straining to meet the needs of the general population and is unprepared to properly care for increasing numbers of persons with developmental disabilities. Educational preparation of health and other related professionals is one of the issues being examined to learn how to better equip our health care system to care for people with developmental disabilities.

We are working to provide better education for university faculty and students to begin the process of integrating information about developmental disabilities into nursing and other health care professionals’ educational programs. In one project, we’re attempting to understand how workplace injury occurrence relates to staff education and training about challenging behaviour, a first step toward improved safety through prevention.

Behaviour Interventions

Aggression, self-injury, and other challenging behaviors adversely impact an person’s health, learning opportunities, and social interactions. Risks and stresses are also posed to those who serve the individuals who present the behaviours. How can we safely and quickly reduce the occurrence of such behaviour? What can we do to prevent these behaviours from happening in the first place?

We’re studying methods to quickly and accurately identify the environmental causes of challenging behaviour – a necessary step for effective treatment. Our research also includes a project on how to present instructions to individuals in ways that they understand, to minimize frustration and the challenging behaviour that may result. And our work in knowledge translation seeks to share these and other findings with the people who can use them most effectively, in a form that’s clear and accessible.

Effective Teaching Technology

We have all been students at one time, and can remember lessons that seemed beyond our ability when they were first introduced. We had to slowly build up the required skill and knowledge, with a teacher to help us correct our errors, until what had seemed impossible was suddenly within our grasp. Clearly, identifying the basic building blocks of learning is a critical part of teaching.

How can we apply this principle when the students face special learning challenges? What component skills are needed for the many everyday tasks that may presently be too difficult for those with developmental disabilities? Our research into the Assessment of Basic Learning Abilities (ABLA) aims to answer these and other questions. Our goal is to develop the ABLA into a teaching technology that can help any student achieve levels that once seemed impossible.

When a learner makes a mistake, what is the best way to guide him or her toward mastery? Does it depend upon the skill that’s being learned? Our project on error-correction procedures is finding the answers.

Families

Families of individuals with developmental disabilities often provide the most important and enduring relationships and support that individuals will experience across their life spans. We’re developing research on ways to assess and meet the needs of these families as they face life transitions – their own and those of their family member with a disability.

As families of people with developmental disabilities must make difficult decisions regarding care of their family member, many conflicts arise with health care providers. A current research study is underway to understand the decision-making process which happens when gastrostomy feeding needs to be considered. We will examine both the families’ and the health care providers’ perspectives to try to develop educational tools to facilitate a smoother transition during this process.

Choice

Choice empowers us, and is a key dimension of quality of life. But some people with developmental disabilities may benefit from extra support during choice making. For example, choice options may be more meaningful if they are presented in a particular format. A person may not be able to respond effectively to the question, “What would you like to do this evening?” Yet he or she may be able to indicate his or her true wishes by pointing to pictures of activities. Research can benefit supporting family, teachers, and caregivers by providing an accurate and practical way to determine the best method for presenting choices.